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Hope is key message of NASW conference

By Paul R. Pace and Rena Malai, News staff

Nearly 1,000 social workers from 12 countries carried home the message that “social work is the profession of hope” from NASW’s national practice conference “Restoring Hope: The Power of Social Work.”

The gathering, held July 22-25 in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity to learn, network and renew social workers’ commitment to the profession and to clients, said NASW President Jeane Anastas.

“Our goal is to restore your passion for the profession, and (to remind you) why you became a social worker in the first place — your belief that all people and all societies have the capacity to change for the better,” she told an enthusiast crowd.

Anastas said she was pleased by the number of attendees who stopped to tell her how much they were enjoying the conference.

“I was told this was the best conference they have been to in a long time, or ever,” she said. “I am so proud of the staff who put together this event. The positive response was overwhelming.”

NASW CEO Elizabeth J. Clark said the theme for the conference was partly inspired by her social work delegation visits to other countries, such as India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa.

“No matter the magnitude of the problems, in each country our social work counterparts were committed and hopeful,” Clark said. “They said their clients, their cities and their countries were resilient and that hope underpinned all of their work — that it was the foundation upon which their change efforts were based.”

Speakers at NASW's Hope Conference included 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and social worker from Liberia Lemay Gbowee.

Conference attendees heard inspiring stories of resiliency and hope from speakers from across the U.S., as well as from Brazil, Liberia and Cambodia.

Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a social worker from Liberia, was a keynote speaker at the conference. She talked about her introduction into social work, and how hope is instrumental in practicing social work from the heart.

As one of the leaders of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, Gbowee started her own peace revolution by gathering a group of neighborhood girls in her home every week.

“Many years ago, I lived in a community that was destroyed in every way by war,” Gbowee said. “We woke up in the morning and poverty stared us in the face.”

At the time, Gbowee was  personally struggling and said she braided hair to put food on the table for her family. However, she still had her eyes open to the hardships of people around her — in particular, five young girls in her community.

“My worry was that these girls were growing up with mothers lost in their own world of problems and frustrations,” she said.

Gbowee said she had no idea what social work was at the time, but she said she “saw misery, and that first night I spoke to them I felt good and I wanted to talk to them again. Every Sunday I invited them over.”

One day a friend told Gbowee about a social work program offered at a Liberian college. She went to school and eventually became a caseworker in Liberia for ex-child soldiers.

“Those days, I did social work by the books,” she said, but when bureaucracy got in the way of helping a young ex-combatant, she learned to practice social work in a different way.

“The only thing I could think about was moving past bureaucracy, and doing social work from the heart,” she said. “Over time what we’ve seen in this world, every professional situation that used to be people-centered has now been replaced by policy, institution and some guidelines.”

The first step to practicing from the heart is to work in an area you are passionate about, she told Hope attendees.

When you do social work from the heart, she said, you don’t just touch lives, your print is stamped on their lives forever.

From the September 2012 NASW News. NASW members click here to read the full story.

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